Winter Olympics: The no-hopers are still in town: For some, just taking part is the realisation of an Olympic dream. Hugh Bateson reports

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The Independent Online
THEY are not supposed to be here this time, but they will be. After a rash of no-hopers pitching up to enjoy the party at Albertville two years ago, the International Olympic Committee has been making stringent efforts to confine the Winter Olympics to serious winter sports people only.

They have not - quite - succeeded. While they have barred the likes of the ski racer who took his first steps on snow five days before the Albertville Games, there will still be a smattering of characters to leaven the purity - or puritanism - of the heavyweights.

True, they will all have better credentials than the slowcoach of Albertville, one Alejandro Preinfal Lavagni, who, as the Costa Rican Alpine team, snuffled his way down the giant slalom and slalom courses with all the grace of the British intermediate-standard holidaymaker. They have all had to qualify this time.

But how seriously are we to take the four builders from Detroit who are now the San Marino bobsleigh team?

Jean Pierre Renzi, Dino and Marcello Crescentini and Mike Crocenzi have dual citizenship with the 23,000-population republic (the Crescentinis were born there as were the others' parents) and are determined to fulfil their Olympic dream. 'We are nobody, and we are competing with the best in the world. We don't have a coach, we don't have a trainer and we are learning every time we go on the track,' Renzi said.

The four - three of them are in their 40s - have only been bobbing since 1991 and qualified in a borrowed sled at a competition in Lake Placid in January. Their first go still haunts their memories: 'We looked at the bobsleds and then we looked at each other,' Renzi said. They have also seen danger at close quarters, with a crash at Lake Placid which was so bad that officials thought that Dino Crescentini had been killed when his helmet was ripped off and lay in the middle of the track.

There are other unlikely entrants. But do not underestimate Anne Abernathy, a 40-year-old grandmother from the Virgin Islands who goes in the luge at her third Olympics and is actually ranked in the top 12 in the world.

Faauuga Tia Muagutitia - Tia for short - is another who commands respect, not least because of his training with the elite US Navy SEAL unit. He drives the two-man bob for America Samoa.